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Showing posts from 2018

Create Agreements First

The more we disagree on a problem the more our behaviors begin to resemble each other's. Why not take this as an invitation to start creating agreements?

-- doug smith

What if Your Solution Is a Problem?

It's discomforting to realize when our solution is someone else's problem - but their problem remains our problem until our solutions agree.

-- doug smith

Conceive and Then Believe

Conceiving a problem solution is about half as critical as convincing ourselves that the solution will work.

Until we are convinced, how will the solution ever work?

How do we become convinced? By carefully conceiving of the best possible solution.

Centered problem solvers take the time to get beyond the surface problem to the heart of the goal.

-- doug smith

Ending Destruction

How do we end a destructive player's destruction without destroying the play is the key problem embedded in diplomacy, crime, and war.

Impossible to solve? Then we manage. Impossible to manage? Then it must be solved.

-- doug smith

Be Careful of Paradox Attachment

You can embrace a paradox without making it your pet.

Observe. Learn. Release. Grow.

-- doug smith

Manage, or Solve Rather Than Ignore

We can't afford to avoid problems just because they're hard.

-- doug smith

Centered Problem Solvers Detach

Do problems spark an emotional reaction in you? Sometimes, they do in me. Then guess what -- I've got the problem AND the emotional reaction. That does not help and it does not solve the problem.

Attaching yourself to a problem just makes it bigger.

Step back, detach, depersonalize, and breathe. That problem is not you after all. That problem is either manageable or solvable. Find out which and get started.

-- doug smith

Room to Grown

I suppose that if a problem is easy to solve that it isn't even a problem. Just solve it and be done with it. A problem like that is more like a decision than a problem.

We all have bigger problems than that, though. We all struggle at times to solve what feels like an unsolvable problems. Some problems truly can't be solved, and must then be managed. How can we tell the difference?

We need to ponder the possibilities. We need to change the problem into a goal and figure out how to bring that about. The difficulty is like a framework for building something we haven't thought of before. The problem stands there, a form waiting to redirect our notions of what is possible.

Tough or not, solvable or not, a problem creates a space for traction.

A problem you can't solve is give you room to grow.


-- doug smith

Work to Understand

Jumping to solutions does not work. Faking it until you make it does not make it. Problem solving takes a centered, reasoned, analytical discipline combined with a creative and courageous mind. Put in the work.

It does no good to pretend to understand a problem. Work hard enough to truly understand.

-- doug smith

Drain That Problem of Its Power

Powerful problems not only get in the way, they can wrap themselves so tightly around you that you feel both constrained and defined. Not what you want.

And not a certainty. Solve the problem, solve the image issue.

Centered problem solvers do not allow problems to define them. Staying detached, staying focused, working to solve those pesky problems.

A problem has no power to define you once it's solved.

You know what to do.

-- doug smith

Find the Flaw In Your Thinking

How does it feel like when your mind is foggy? For me, fogginess happens when there are an overwhelming number of choices, or possibilities, or the problem seems to cut so deep that only a tourniquet will help. Fogginess can also come from incomplete thinking - we stop at a place that makes sense to our unseen bias, and move forward without looking for other facts.

Flaws in our thinking develop when our thinking is misdirected (it was true about something else so it must be true about this), polluted (that advertisement is just SO convincing), corrupted (it might not be exactly right but it's good for me), and any of dozens of factors that fog our thoughts.

The flaw that blocks you knocks you off center. The flaw that deceives you leaves you without a real solution.

Find the flaw in your thinking while you can still find it, or the problem is yours to keep.

-- doug smith


To disentangle and detach from an emotion that's tied to a problem, first understand the problem.

-- doug smith

When It's Not A Problem

We call lots of things problems that really are not problems at all. If we know the solution and can immediately solve the situation, it's not exactly a problem, is it? If money can fix it and we have enough money for the situation, then it's not a problem (I know, the lack of money can certainly be a problem).

If we haven't prioritized the situation and it requires our attention, it's not so much a problem as a choice.

Yes, we have lots of problems. Let's just be careful about avoiding a situation by labeling it a problem.

It's not a problem just because it doesn't fit into your agenda.

-- doug smith

Sometimes It IS The Relationship

Do relationships impact your problems? Maybe not always, but sometimes. Relationships can both help and complicate problem situations. How we attend to the relationship impacts the problem. Whether or not we attend to the problem affects the relationship.

Not every problem can be solved by helping a relationship, but those than CAN be, must be or they remain problems.

-- doug smith

Minute with Maxwell Series on Problem Solving

John Maxwell is a prosperous leadership expert, speaker, and author of many books. He also offers a "Minute With Maxwell" daily series that is filled with leadership wisdom.

This week he has devoted his series to problem solving. I thought it would be helpful to save the videos here for his perspective on problem solving.

Here's the first.


The first principle is: Face Reality.

Video #3
Ask for Help
"None of us are as smart as all of us."

People like to help us solve problems, so ask for help!
Sometimes we just need fresh eyes. Look for help and you will find it. "When I asked for help I didn't diminish myself in their eyes, but I did diminish the problem."

Video #4-A
Don't Add to the Problem

Video #4-B
"Reflection turns experience into insight."

"What did you love? What did you learn?"
"A sustained thinker looks for a better answer..."

Video #5
Growth Practices:

I read daily to grow my persona…

Solve the Little Problems

Those big problems are tough. Like giant stone walls they overshadow everything around them. How will we ever solve them?

Those walls are made of smaller bricks. What if we tackle one brick at a time, one smaller problem at a time?

High performance leaders find ways to break down the big walls into digestible pieces.

What if our biggest unsolvable problem is really one hundred perfectly solvable little problems?

-- doug smith

When Cultures Clash

Teams need time to talk. Interruptions into your busy schedule might be annoying. They might even be disruption. What if within those interruptions you could find new keys to better performance? What if in those interruptions were the secrets to solving the problems of your team?

You never know. When a leader gives a team member their complete and full attention, wonderful things happen. Growth, change, bonding, efficiency.

Yes, even efficiency. That interruption that feels like a hassle might end up making your team more efficient and complete, like a fabulous jazz band that improvises without missing, or a sports team that never drops the ball. Cohesive, collaborative teams come from communicating. Why not talk more?

Unless we take time to talk we may not have time for anything else.

Take time to talk.

-- doug smith

Do You Know the Puzzle of Your Problem?

Problems! If the solution were obvious it would be no problem. We have to sit with it, figure it out, focus on our goal, and move forward. Maybe we move tentatively at first. Maybe we boldly act with decisiveness. Maybe we first solve the puzzle behind the problem.

The puzzle is the piece of the problem that is not obvious, yet is strongly effecting the outcome. Maybe it's on there periphery. It could be understated. It could be misunderstood. It is puzzling and must be teased out of its dilemma status into an openly more obvious presence. We can't do that if we ourselves are flying in all directions. We must sit still and breathe. We must center ourselves. We must scrutinize the puzzle.

Your problem is more than a puzzle but the puzzle will not be denied.

-- doug smith

Take Care of the People, Too

High performance leaders solve problems. They know that there are no perfect processes and there sure ARE a lot of imperfect problems. Focused on results, we solve problems.

When we do, I've learned to keep this in mind. Whatever your solution, it will affect people. Some will like the change, and many will not. Whether or not the solution works could very well depend on how well people receive it, implement it, and support it.

To win the support of people, keep them in mind. Make sure that your solution is good for the process AND good for the people. Avoid trimming the fun out of a project at the expense of the people, just to save a dime. Avoid cutting organizations so such a lean point that people suffer from the burden. Take care of people. At the end of the day, whether you are fixing a process, developing a product, or even changing the world...isn't it all about the people?

Take care of the people as well as the problem. None of it matters without people.

-- doug smit…

What If We're Not the Problem?

Centered problems solvers know that while people are involved in problems, it does no good to ascribe blame. Whose fault is it? It almost doesn't matter, and looking for whose fault it is will distract you from actually solving the problem.

We were all involved.

When we look at it that way, and determine how we can each help contribute to a solution, the problem because more manageable. Solve the problem and let the people be the people.

We need to solve problems without making each other the problem.

No need to add a problem to your problem.

-- doug smith

The Trouble With Taking A Problem Personally

Taking a problem personally just makes it harder to solve.

You've got the problem, AND you've got the upset.

Shake free of the upset when you can (hint: always) and stop taking it personally. The solution is waiting for you to discover/invent/explore it -- do that instead of making stuff up in your head about how it's all

Taking a problem personally just makes it harder to solve.

-- doug smith

It's Not About The Blame

Centered problem solvers don't know everything, but they do know this: blaming someone for your problem just gives you another problem.

Skip the blame. Create a solution.

-- doug smith

The New Problem Is New

Solving a problem gives you confidence, and that's useful. The challenge is that the next problem is brand new. The previous solution likely won't work. The previous process toward reaching that solution might not even work. The new problem is new.

Stay creative. Stay centered. Focus on what you want and find ways to bring that about.

We may not be able to solve our next problem with the solution that worked for the previous problem.

-- doug smith

Catch the Shortcuts

Change can be slow. We plod along. Or, increasingly so, things can change abruptly fast, spinning our heads, altering our internal landscape.

Problems give us a window to a better way. Left unaddressed, most problems will just get worse. But, give attention, focus, and a new direction, problems can send us toward a better way of doing things. Maybe we don't need better gas milage -- maybe we need new ways to fuel our transportation. Maybe we don't need tighter immigration laws --  maybe we need to solve the problems that send people away from their homeland. Maybes abound, and certainties are hard to find. Still, every problem is whispering in our ears, "solve me and see how good it can be."

Problems are shortcuts to a better future.

Take those shortcuts.

-- doug smith


It's frustrating to misunderstand a problem, or to deal with someone you are certain has misunderstood the problem. In that situation, influencing clarity is more difficult, and finding a solution stays clouded in ignorance.

The most troubling problems are rooted in ignorance.

You know that feeling that you're dealing with someone who just doesn't know what's going on? The frustration it causes, the distortion it encourages, the ignorance it perpetuates while frustration mounts?

What if you're that person, and you don't even know it?

The most troubling problems are rooted in ignorance, and sometimes we're the ones who do not know.

Centered problem solvers make room for that possibility - the chance that they do not know what they do not know.

It's not the solution, but it's a start.

-- doug smith

You Might Be Surprised

A problem might be showing us a new way to see a situation. It could be discordant without being destructive.

Some things looks problematic because they're difficult, or unexpected. Centered problem solvers take the time to breathe and to view the problem objectively. What's really going on? How much is situation and how much is perspective.

Inquire into what is going on. You might be surprised.

-- doug smith

Solve Problems for Yourself AND Others

When you are solving a problem, do you consider the impact your solution will have on other people?

I've seen leaders who impose solutions on their teams that make the job worse, not better. While some degree of resistance to any solution is natural, your problem has a much better chance of staying solved if the solution you pick is supported by your team.

Does your solution make the job easier?
Does your solution make your customers happier?
Is your solution elegant and simple and yet robust enough to solve the problem?

The purpose of problem solving is to make life better for you AND for others. Centered problem solvers consider the needs of everyone impacted by the problem. There's no need to let your solution ruin your solution.

Do the whole job.

-- doug smith

On Complexity

Break it down.

Work it out.

Analyze the root cause of the problem. Involve the people who are involved. Take the time it takes to take the problem seriously.

Complexity is no excuse to avoid solving a problem.

-- doug smith

Infinite Possibilities

Problems pile up. Answer hide. Frustration builds. Still, there are always more answers. There are always more possibilities. Our biggest challenge is to give up before we have explored enough possibilities to find a winner. There's a winner (or two or more) in there. Keep digging. Keep generating ideas. Keep focused on possibilities.

We may never run out of problems but we'll also never exhaust our possibilities for solving them.

-- doug smith

Leadership Call to Action:
Stay curious!

Meet the Challenge

A problem can feel like a weight. It can stick you in your place, nailing inertia to your intention and holding fast. Quickly, it becomes unmanageable, an impossible obstacle in your path. When a problem feels like a nightmare, leadership can struggle.

When the direction is unclear, when the heat seems unbearable, when the pressure is crushing you, when the problems stack high like a looming tower, put the problem into perspective:

A problem is there to challenge you, not break you.

Centered problem solves step back, step up, and deliver.

Meet the challenge.

-- doug smith

You May Not Need Every Tool

Do you have a lot of tools?

I don't. I had a nice collection inherited from my dad (I call them a collection because I collected them but when they were his he actually USED them) until they were destroyed in a fire.

Now, an apartment dweller, I have few tools. I still don't use all of them -- but I know how.

When we are solving problems we have many tools. The temptation is to use them all. It's oddly satisfying to bring out tool after tool. Satisfying, but sometimes inefficient. Simplicity - elegant simplicity is often best.

Use the tools that work, and leave the rest for another time.

It isn't always necessary to overwhelm a problem in order to solve it.

Sometimes the solution is right there in from of you and in need of only one tool. Dialogue. Talk about it and see what happens. You might just solve that problem faster than you expected.

-- doug smith

When NOT to Make Peace

I'm a peaceful guy. Given a choice, any choice at all, I will avoid conflict by seeking to create dialogue. If that doesn't work, or the situation is too intense I may just leave. Leaving is good. Leaving is peaceful. Leaving feels safe.

But leaving is not always the best choice. It's not enough to make peach with a problem when it's our duty to solve it. Making peace with that kind of problem makes us culpable for the problem.

Centered problem solvers solve problems even when it would be easier to run away.

Don't run away from problems that need to be solved. Don't make peace with a problem causing pain.

-- doug smith

High Performance Survival

High performance leaders solve problems. They solve their problems and they work with their team members to solve collective team problems (because any team problem becomes a collective problem - impossible to isolate.)

Using the right balance of clarity, courage, creativity, and compassion high performance leaders facilitate the kind of dialogue that challenges, encourages, cooperates, and collaborates. They talk about it. Their team talks about it. They get it done.

It can be rough going solving problems. Personalities can get excited. High performance leaders find ways to remain centered. How? Of course it depends. Here are some ways to remain centered when you're solving problems:

BreathePauseMaintain respectThink creativelyConsider many, many possibilitiesSuspend your inner judge and stay curiousTrust that others have ideas as great as yours There's more to it of course. Solving problems is a dynamic, difficult adventure. But by taking the time to solve problems your team…

Colin Mochrie talks improv and leadership

It's Not Pretend

Problems are real. We might avoid them, but they are real. We might ignore them, but they can only be ignored until the problem is big enough to cause reactions. Problems are not pretend so our reactions must be real.

We need to pay attention. We need to act.

It doesn't do any good to pretend to know the solution if the solution doesn't work.

-- doug smith

Is Anger A Problem Solving Tool?

Problems can make me angry. It's tempting to express that anger. Sometimes it's even necessary to express that anger, in a productive and safe way. But, it's too much to expect that anger can solve the problem.

Anger calls attention to its cause. When it's a problem, we notice our anger. We get motivated to react.

Anger might be simply doing its best to identify a problem. Just don't use anger attempting to solve it.
-- doug smith

Energizing Goals

Centered problem solvers set clear and energizing goals.

How many ways can you think of to solve your problem? What if you framed your problem as a goal -- how many ways could you think of to achieve your goal?

Limitless? That's what I was thinking...

-- doug smith

Test Your Assumptions

When was the last time one of your assumptions was wrong?

It's so easy to jump to conclusions. We fill-in-the-blanks so many times in so many ways because it's just part of being human. But, when we assume that things are not going in our favor, when maybe there is no reason to, we do ourselves no service.

This is a picture of a recent training room for one of my workshops. It was day two of the two-day workshop and since the hotel staff had in the past forgotten to unlock the door to my room. I arrived, and sure enough the door was locked. Rather than get upset (something I might have experienced in the past) I calmly contacted the hotel staff and politely, yet assertively, asked to have my door unlocked.

"I can do that, sir," said a polite maintenance gentleman, "but you could also just walk in thru that second, open door..."

"Oh. Gee. Thanks!"

That was just a little embarrassing. Just about fifteen feet from the locked door was an open door. M…

Could It Be The Process?

Before you blame a person for that problem, could it be the process?

-- doug smith

Outlast At Last

Center Yourself First

Those problems! Does it ever seem that they can take on lives of their own? They can seem so out of whack, so out of harmony, that we wonder what it will take to even start to get them under control. Breathless, we forge ahead bungling our initial efforts and creating a spinning circle of frustration.


Unless we first center ourselves. Unless we are already balanced, focused, breathing individuals. Ready for this challenge because we are simply ready. Confident. Quiet. Calm. Centered.

Center yourself first.

Solving problems without a centered self may lead to complications.

You're first on that list.

-- doug smith

Go Ahead

Have you ever tried to solve a problem but kept holding yourself back? I've done that too many times to count, and it doesn't count for anything. It doesn't work.

Feeling insecure will not make me more secure. Let it go. Open up more possibilities.

The magic, the answer, the solution is in the possibilities.

-- doug smith